For the past several months, Sol Republic has been expounding on an innovative new concept: headphones that come unassembled, with separate parts you can buy to change the colours and materials to make your own customised set of headphones. The Master Tracks XC is the latest in this line, one that introduces new transducers. Will they improve the sound quality that was so unimpressive on the previous models?
DESIGN & BUILD
Lightweight with Quality Finish
The Master Tracks XC reprise the same general design as the other Master Tracks, but with a few new changes.
The Master Tracks XC come as three separate parts:
- Headband. It looks like metal, but it's actually plastic. It's incredibly flexible and can withstand twisting and turning in any direction. The middle section is lined with a strip of comfortable foam padding covered in overstitched imitation leather on the top and velvet on the bottom (the part that rests on your head).
- Ear cups. They're big and have even softer foam lined with more imitation leather that feels quite nice to the touch. The rest is covered in the same metal-looking material as the headband, but with a machined aluminium cap on the end that holds together the section that houses the ends of the headband.
- Y cable. It's thick and has an angled connector. It feels sturdy and has a smartphone-compatible remote control.
Also in the box is a pouch with double-lined cordura on the inside and a spiral cable with a 1/4" jack for home and studio use.
The Master Tracks XC is much lighter than it looks and sits nicely on the head without squeezing too tight, all while staying steadily in place. As big headphones go, these ones are particularly sober and discreet.
Back in Balance
Until now, Sol Republic's headphones have always had fairly predictable sound: tons of flabby bass, and so much mid-range that it sometimes distorts the vocal range. But with the new transducers, the XC should put a stop to that.
Frequency response curve: lows to the left, highs to the right
The Master Tracks XC falls in line with the current generation of fashion-statement headphones: lots of low-end and warmth—too much. The 6 to 7 added decibels in the low-end are clean, entirely unoppressive, and they don't get in the way of the rest of the spectrum.
Voices, especially low voices, are fairly well reproduced, as are string instruments. The volume drops back down in the high-end, making for a soft, somewhat matte sound. Very little precision is lost, but it still won't please listeners who like their music über-brilliant.
Left: THD+N as a % / Right: THD in dB
Very little distortion comes through, as attested by the THD graphs. The soundstage is fine, but not extraordinary, and sources are relatively well positioned in space. The transducers react incredibly well to electric stimulation, without any of the unwanted back-and-forths from the membrane that so often translate into sluggish bass. Here it's all clean and tidy, with no excesses.